Thursday, 30 October 2008

Learning the Art of Henna

I have long adored henna and every now and again have ago at creating a pattern, Little Lady also loves the stuff and harasses me into drawing a new pattern on her hand as soon as the previous one has worn off. I loved the idea of being able to do this well, but don't have the time to attend a course, also my mum keeps telling me and my sisters that one of us should learn (I think she likes it too). Anyway, I thought I would practice on Little Lady and see if I can get the knack. I tried this design from the very talented Catharine Hinton-Brawn's site Henna Cat.

I need to keep practicing, and Little Lady is a very willing guinea-pig so if I can find time I hope to get better. BTW if you are interested in learning more about henna, a good place to start is Sister Lubna's Mehendi Ke Rang.

Matchy-Matchy Chocoholic

Today I put together just the kind of outfit I like (cheap) and had just the kind of day I like today (got lots done, got good news and then skived on the net for the afternoon) alhamdulillah.

The abaya is made from material that cost me £5 at Green Street's Queens Market and is my equivalent of made-to-measure designer couture (i.e. my beloved mum sewed it up nice and simple, just the style I like it and perfectly sized). The silk scarf is a donation from Kooky Little Sister (originally from ebay) and just happened to be a match. The flower broach (£1.50 from Primark) is courtesy of Fashionista Sister and the ring belongs to one of my three sisters, but seeing as I have taken a liking to it, I don't care to enquire which one.

I don't usually like to go head-to-toe in one colour (a pale steely grey-blue, rather than the grey it looks here) unless it's black, but in a light colour like this I felt quite elegant (except every time I looked down and spotted the big flower and felt slightly silly). My only problem was shoes. I ended up whering black pumps as I couldn't work out what colour would look good with this - any ideas? (I do have a pair of grey-black and silver smart heels, but wasn't sure).

By late afternoon, my intention to eat sensibly and healthily went out the window and everyone in the office gave me change to get some mucnhies. The lady in Sainsburies went ballistic when she saw all the change - I felt very sheepish

Job Interviews and Dusty Computers

After almost three weeks of living under slowly descending layers of dust and having no internet connection at home (where I can upload pictures), someone thought fit (thinking better half or brother-in-law) to reconnect it. So I am sitting here at the dustiest computer I have ever seen waiting for the dinner to cook and trying to decide what to post about first (whilst the boys fight over a rubber band - what are toys for anyway?). I hope I haven't been too miserable or maudlin over the last few weeks/posts, but this has been a time of learning and maybe even insight for me. Despite the chaos (below), I feel good and I feel calm and peaceful alhamdulillah (thank you for your dua's).

Oh, and I have gone from feeling down on my job and a bit hopeless to getting e-mails for three job interviews today. Of course I was elated and it was a boost to my confidence. Now I just have to deal with the brick-wall that has sprung up around my comfort zone to keep me in. I'm also very heartened by a kind friend who looked at my application and took time and thought to correct and help me improve it, not for the first time either.

Packing up the family room (books, toys, computer, craft stuff, pram, coats and hats, stationary and filing).

Taking out the chimney and murdering the computer table and carpet in the process (Oh how happy I am to see the back of those curtains - oh look you can see the rickety fence through the window that got a big hole in it while we were in Pakistan - do you think it was magic?).

The beginnings of a new wall and the death-knell for the new carpet.

The current situation. There's still lots to do, but the room is beginning to take shape, I am very excited firstly because it will be like a blank canvas and secondly because wherever we have lived, me and hubby have made the best of what is there and hidden the bits we don't like. This is the first time we have done so much rather than patch jobs. I haven't decided on the colour scheme and the sofa is chocolate-coloured leather so the options I have in mind are:

  • splashes of rainbow in the curtains, cushions and rug (reflected in the books and toys in the shelves on the wall) or
  • shades of blue and green everywhere (as I am mad on green) or
  • natural shdes throughout - calm and peaceful, but maybe a little boring.

Any ideas anyone?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Seeking Happiness

Having one of those days today. I think workload and events over the last few weeks have worn me down a bit. Was planning to spend the day moping, but it’s not really my style. So thought about why I feel this way and realised I am looking at the small things that are there every day of your life and allowing them to get to me. I know I have a choice over how I feel and I will exercise it.

If you look for happiness in your work, you will always find obstacles.
If you look for happiness in power and prestige, someone can always take those things from you
If you look for happiness in your relationships – you peace will be hostage always to other people.
If you look for happiness in your possessions, that they will always grow old, get lost or lose value.
If you look for happiness inside of yourself, at least you have control over that.
So is happiness something that you look for and find, something that happens to you or a choice that you make?

If you look towards Allah (SWT) for happiness you are turning to that which is eternal, that which can never let you down and that whom you can trust implicitly to do what is good for you, even if you don’t know what is good for you.

This comes after sitting in meetings all last week to decide what will happen to my team’s jobs and trying to put together some job applications. I kept looking at thinking: these men have no power over me, the men and women that sit on job panels have no power to provide for me, or even choose me. I kept thinking that all of these people have no influence over my fate no matter how much they think they do. Only Allah (SWT) can change my situation and really I should be grateful for my situation.

As I wrote this, the lady next to me asked if we knew what a toilet-stack (!?!) was because she had to log it as casework. I had no intention of laughing today, but she made me laugh out loud (what can I do - Brits and toilet humour?).

Friday, 24 October 2008

Keeping All The Balls in the Air.

How relieved I am it is Friday again. I have struggled this week. The work has been building up at the office, the builders have been taking my house apart despite my husbands assurances any mess would be contained to one room (yeah right!! Does Bob the Builder know this?). This week I was beginning to have real doubts about I was going to manage. Due to the workload and the type of work I am doing right now, I have not been my usual cheery, chirpy self and I was desperate not to be the office whinger. I was late home yesterday just trying to get some work out of the way and this meant that everything at home was behind time. I was home and straight into the kitchen where I tried to rush dinner and wash-up at the same time and just ended up burning the food to the bottom of the pan. The boiler went on the blink because the builders unwittingly took a pipe apart so the cold water and open doors (builders again) meant that my hands were numb before the dishes were done. My graceful, grateful, adult response to all this? Bursting into tears. In front of the children. They watched in fascination as I slunk up to my bedroom where I remembered that I had my daughters Parents Consultation Evening to get to – an hour ago. I was mortified, we had both forgotten because we were too busy doing things!! I felt terrible. I wondered how I could be good at anything: being a mother and teacher to my children, a wife, an employee, if I could not give sufficient time and thought to any of these roles.

I had some chocolate and reflected a bit. Then I had some more chocolate (Belgian milk chocolate with vanilla). I considered that Sister Umm Travis’s Complainers Challenge still stood, so I was adamant I was not going to complain. I thought about talking to Little Lady’s teacher in the morning, making my excuses and getting a new appointment. I reminded myself I had to apply for an interesting job the next day (the deadline). I also thought about the absolutely perfect job I had found to apply for which involved working with the Muslim community, managing a Preventing Violent Extremism Project, local and with great money of course. I have no chance as I don’t meet half of the criteria, but I could apply and pray couldn’t I?

I had just started to feel better, when I noticed some papers left on my bedside table. One was Little Lady’s homework for the half-term holiday, the other bit of paper was a letter apologising that the Parents Consultation Evening had been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. I just stared. Someone had seen that I needed a bit of kindness. So I feel much less of a louse at the moment and I know Allah (SWT) is kind and loves me.

Book Review: Ben Elton – Dead Famous

The front of this book proclaims in large letters: “No.1 Bestseller”. This usually doesn’t mean much for me, except that the supermarkets have had it on sale in a prominent place for a reduced price. I had to concede in Ben Elton’s case though, that he can be a good read and covers an interesting mix of subjects. Kooky Little Sister and a colleague both recommended this particular book so I thought I would have a go at it.

Each of Elton’s books chooses a different theme and genre: drugs, environment, internet, infertility the detective novel, a thriller, and looks at the issue from numerous perspectives. In this case we have the reality TV phenomenon within a whodunit novel. The novel is based around a television programme called House Arrest (a thinly-veiled portrayal of the UK’s revolting Big Brother programme) and centres on a group of young people living in a television house and being watched by the nation. The Police are called in to investigate when one of the group is murdered in full view of the nation, despite which no-one can work out who the murderer is.

The novel is really a satire, lampooning reality TV, the greed of television companies and the willingness of the public to behave like a baying mob. No-one is spared – the newspapers, politicians, the Police and especially not the young contestants. Being a spoof, Elton exaggerates the language a little, so that almost everyone under thirty speaks a kind of exaggerated MTV-peak. Anyone over thirty is shown as trying to emulate this (badly) and making fools of themselves. The characters are shown to have absolutely no self-awareness at all, no sense of how excruciating they can be at times. I also got tired of how shallow and brainless young people were being portrayed as and after a while the slangy dialogue began to irritate me. We might throw in the odd “cool” or “buff” but most of do not speak ordinarily like this:

‘Big up to yez,’ said the hip late-night girl, welcoming Geraldine on to the programme. ‘Cracking first week in the house. We like that.’
‘Top telly that woman!’ said the hip late-night guy.
‘Respect. Fair play to yez.’
‘Go Woggle, yeah!’ said the girl. ‘We so like Woggle.’
‘He da man!’ said the guy. ‘Who da man?’
‘He da man!’ said the girl. ‘Woggle, he da man!’

The language didn’t quite feel authentic, at the very least it felt as if slang from different decades and groups (rappers, hippies, yuppies) was being mixed up. Having said all of these things though, this was a storming mystery. Right up until the end of the book, I could not work out who the murderer was. I suspected every character, yet could not decide on a single one. The second half of the book had me hooked. I started reading on the bus home, then asked the kids to “play for a bit, I just need to finish this book” – I spent the next hour lost to everything around me, bent on finding out who the killer was and how he committed the murder.

I suppose, not quite one for the “must-read” list, but a good book if you don’t mind the coarse language, although if you do want to try one of Ben Elton’s books, I would recommend High Society the most.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

An Assertive Muslim Woman…kind of.

A few weeks ago I was sent by my work place to attend an assertiveness workshop. I have been on these before and I am still a wet lettuce most of the time when it comes to putting my foot down or stating what I want. The course presented us with two acronyms that were to be used in the event we needed to assert ourselves:

ACT – For when we need to say NO to something:

A - Acknowledge your request. Say a short statement to let the person know that you heard and are considering what they have said.

C - Clarify your circumstances. Be brief, but give them an insight into what you are doing that will prevent you from honouring their request.

T - Transform your refusal into a positive. Suggest alternatives and give options.

And a DESC Script for when we need to deal with an unpalatable situation:

D - Describe the behaviour that has been observed that has led to this session. Take ownership of the observations and be specific.

E - Express how you felt as a result of your observations and the effects you feel this may have on the team. Again take ownership of your feelings.

S - Specify what it is you want to see change in that person’s behaviour. Find out reasons that may have contributed to the behaviour, ask them how they feel about your requests, and invite them to explore ways in which they can work more coherently.

C - State the positive consequences if the member of staff does work towards achieving what has been agreed in this feedback session and the negative consequences if they do not.

But there was something about this one which was a bit different. The trainer made a very simple statement that stayed with me and is actually helping me to be more assertive. She said that you will find that when you are assertive, that some people will not like you. This made me think and I realised that one of the reasons I struggle to hold my own is that I care too much what people think about me and try too hard to make them like me. I know when I should tell someone off or be strong in telling them when I think they are wrong. Sometimes I take the wimpy option and tell them mostly what they want to hear, but I am realising that that is not being a good friend or relative and it is not good for me. Telling it straight is a trait that initially I used to dislike in some of my sisters because I use to feel as if they are being quite aggressive, more and more it is something I am coming to admire. The difference for me is being tactful when you are putting someone straight – if I were doing something wrong or incorrectly (salah or recitation of Quran for example), I would be happier if a sister told me, but told me discreetly and without making me feel stupid (for example I might begin by saying if I have made the same mistake in the past if that is the case).

Anyway, I suppose the key to being assertive is having respect for yourself and your rights and respecting the rights of others at the same time. I think for women, its often the first [art that we have to work at (you could do as I have and just forgot all of the above and keep beginning by thinking: "I don't mind if you don't like me but this has to be said").

Monday, 20 October 2008

Watching Oranges or Navel-Gazing

Okay so I am navel-gazing (again), so you may just want to look away. I was inspired to due to a kind of light-bulb moment, or perhaps a moment of self-awareness?

Fashionista showed me a picture of one of her friends’ collection of Swarovski jewellery which just took my breath away (my weakness for shiny things and sweet things is ridiculously childish), boxes and boxes of the stuff, all arranged by colour (I know, I am so anal). I felt a more than momentary pang of longing and my mind kept returning to jewellery, shoes and pashmina’s. I kept thinking about how I needed to buy that one more thing and I would look smart for work or for when I go out with my children or pretty for my husband.

Then I stopped and sat down and thought about the fact that if I were to go down this route of thinking, no-matter what I buy would be enough. Things do not give you confidence. I realised I need to take what I have and wear it with 100% confidence even if it is the same old abaya that is getting shiny with ironing and the shoes that my sister has kindly pointed out are very worn-down (I just can’t find a pair that doesn’t hurt that doesn’t look like they were made for my gran). But then I do have that giant mock-croc bag that costs £4 (and looks like it cost £400) and turns heads wherever I go and the velvet Next cost that costs me £2 that my manager loves. Anyway I digress; I just need to learn to value myself for myself rather than for what I wear or what work I do.

I also thought about all that money that I could waste on jewellery or shoes and how it could be better spent – on saving to help my brother and sisters pay for their weddings on day (soon Insh’Allah), towards Umrah for us as a family or a last hajj for my mum-in-law. It could be better spent as sadaqah (charity) in a million different places. The pair of pointy ankle-boots or the swarovski rayskin-look bangle suddenly didn’t feel as desirable; after all it won’t come near what we will get in jannah for giving it up insh’Allah. Plus sometimes you discipline yourself against having or getting something you want and Allah (SWT) just puts it in your lap – has that ever happened to you?

I probably need to get deeper to the real issue – confidence. I just need to remind myself every now and again to behave like a grown Muslim woman. To wear what you have and wear it with utter confidence, to walk tall and with a bounce in my step and energy in my stride. To just make peace with myself and just enjoy being who I am. Being vital is always better than being well-shod or bejewelled. As it is to be good, to be kind, to be modest, be still, be useful to someone, to be skilled, be confident, be joyful, be creative, be calm, be worshipful, be open, be healthy, be full of energy and love. There must be a thousand things to be that are better than being expensively-dressed (although if anyone is giving swarovski-studded abaya’s away that’s not a no from me) I think I just need to keep working on all of those other things.

One lady who seems to have got that message straight in her head and whose words have comforted and inspired me in the past is Sultana Yusufali whose article “A lesson to be learned” was published by Toronto Star Young People's Press when she was a 17 year-old high school student, I hope it does the same for others.

Sofa Epic and Complainer’s Challenge

I did plan lots for this last weekend, but I ended up doing…nothing. Well, nothing productive anyway. I have spent all summer talking my husband out of removing the chimneys from our downstairs (why are all Asians obsessed with removing chimneys – why does about three foot more space by the wall improve our lives so drastically considering it costs so much?). Anyway after agreeing it was unnecessary on a number of occasion, he announced on Friday evening that we had better pack up the back room (where I keep all of my books, the children’s toys, my craft supplies, all of my stationary, paperwork and the computer and pram with all of the children’s coats in it) as the builders were coming on the weekend. So packed everything up in boxes and spend two days sitting on my mum’s sofa. Usually this is one of my favourite places, but by the end of two days of being stuck inside with the kids with nothing to do, we were all going crazy. I spent two days eating rubbish (chocolate bars, pancakes, chips and fish-fingers, chocolate fudge cake, chilli crisps, halal cola bottles, chocolate biscuits…).

I spent most of the two days watching my family channel-hop at high-speed (Long-Suffering Sister is queen of this, whereas Kooky Little Sister just watches weird stuff). In the evening we have the treat of the 45 minute film. This is when my mum watches a particular Indian channel every day at 8pm to see the view the first 45 minutes of a film, before the channel shuts its free-view slot. This is to encourage people to subscribe. Of course the film-makers have clocked on and right before the 45 minutes is about to finish, there is some great surprise about to unfold which has you hooked, which you cannot see the denouement of. None of this seems to bother my mum at all and she happily watches the first 45 minutes every day. I also spent the weekend looking at my books, but not reading a thing. I took my journals with me, flicked through them and again did not a thing. I sat with my gran for a while which is usually something productive, but she was on one of her bi-annual fits of temper, usually caused by one or other of her relatives, so spent two days shouting, swearing and threatening on the phone to the other end of London and to Pakistan, with the rest of us trying not to wet ourselves with laughter while she threatened to “come over there in my wheelchair if I have to and yank all of your hair out!”

Any way the lovely Umm Travis, has shown exemplary timing Mash’Allah with her challenge asking us how long we can go without a complaint and her challenge to have an attitude of gratitude. So I am thinking about the weekend and what I have to be grateful for – a good rest which has left me with buckets of energy and a renewed focus. I am grateful that I spent time with my parents and sisters, I am grateful that they were patient enough to put up with me and my rowdy kids all weekend. I am grateful that my husband cares enough to try and make our home comfortable and beautiful for us. I am thankful that my gran is well enough to yell for 50 minutes without taking breath. I am grateful that I made time to speak with family in Pakistan (a new bride to congratulate, a new baby to ask after, and an ill mother-in-law to make giggle amongst others).

In turn I tag beloved Big Sis, Sis Rainbow, Sis Umm Nassim, Sis Lubna, Sis Umm Zachariya, and anyone else who would like to have a go, please join in if you like.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Belated Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

October 15th was Blog Action Day and this year they have chosen as their theme poverty. I have only just realised today and was feeling a bit bad that I haven’t done my part. In recompense I thought I should link to some of the other in the blogosphere who have made an effort:

Mr Moo talks about his experiences of working with NGO's, prepare to get teary-eyed.

Sister Farhana at Sketched Soul reminds us how we can start small and begin to make a difference just by beginning. She also has a number of great projects on her site you can help with.

Sister Habayeb of A Learning Muslimah reminds us that poverty isn't just out there, sometimes it can be right here under our noses in the most affluent places in the world.

Sister Umm Layth of The Muslimah and her exhortation to begin at home by teaching our children about charity.

You can also visit Sister Aaminah's blog Writeous Sister Speaks for a fuller list of blogs participating.

If you like, you can also make the most of this blessed Jummah Day and contribute to:

Muslim Hands
Islamic Relief
Helping Hands
Islamic Aid
Edhi Foundation

Book Review: Niccolo Ammaniti - I'm Not Scared

This did not seem like the kind of book I would usually go for, the title itself reminded me of the whole victim genre (harrowing tales of child abuse available in every supermarket’s book aisle). The author’s Italian name (no indication of anything except that he is Italian really) and the Observer newspapers comparison to the Blair Witch Project made me think again.

The story begins with six children playing in the countryside during the hottest summer on record. Everywhere is gold with wheat and there is a feeling of freedom and space and innocence. The children play at races and dares and occasionally they stoop to the kind of cruelty that is reminiscent of Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The main protagonist, a boy of nine called Michelle, enters a dilapidated old house on a dare and finds something unspeakably horrible.

The blurb of the book promises “…a discovery so momentous, he dare not tell anyone about it” and when you realise the full extent of what he has find, it is rather terrible. Very early on the author skilfully notches up the tension from a feeling of childish playfulness to horror and outright panic.

The story is told from Michelle’s point of view and gives us an interesting, and I thought, fairly realistic child’s-eye view. The adults in the book are portrayed fairly negatively. Even characters that the child clearly adores, like his parents, when read with an adult eye, come across as less than pleasant. We see Michelle trying to tell his parents about his discovery and failing. The adults seem to be oblivious to their child’s distress and incapable of listening to him. This in itself made the child’s perspective more of an authentic one for me.

This is not a book for the faint-hearted, but if you can stomach the cruelty and rather painful ending, you might want to give it a go.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Recipe: Pilau Rice

This is one of the first things that my mum taught me to cook. Rice is not as central to the Punjabi diet as it is to the Bengali or South Indian one, being as it is, largely based around wheat (in the form of chapatti’s with each meal), this is mainly because Punjab is farmland and focuses on grains. This being the case, rice tends to be reserved more for guests and celebrations. In our house no Eid is complete without a plateful of rice and if we have invited guests over the humungous rice pot comes out.

As a teenager, my mum used to direct me to the kitchen every Saturday afternoon, instructing me step by step as she sat at her sewing machine doing piece-work. When I married it was one of the few things I could cook (my husband insists he taught me the rest).

This method of cooking the rice in the oven is a little different from the usual way, but I find it fairly fool-proof. The quality of cooked rice is judged by its texture, and I have found that in this way the rice is less likely to stick and more likely to come out of the pot as long, separate grains.

Ingredients (serves 6):
2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or vegetable oil will do)
2 medium onions diced
2-3 medium tomatoes pureed
6 cups of rice
9 cups of water (use the same measure as for the rice – 1-½ of water for each cup of rice)
1 large tablespoon of salt
½ teaspoon of chilli powder
1 heaped teaspoon of garam masala powder

Optional (to add flavour and aroma):
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds (zeera)
1-2 sticks of cassia bark
1-2 bay leaves
Most of the above items can be bought in a packet of mixed whole spices which will also include cloves, zeera, coriander seeds and peppercorns. (If I have a pack, I forego the above and just throw a small handful of the mixture in)

Before beginning rinse rice and leave to soak in water.
You will need a pot that is entirely metal i.e. no plastic handles or lid-knobs
Saute the onions in the oil until golden. Then add pureed tomatoes, spices and salt and cook a little longer (10 minutes approx), add some of the water if necessary (to avoid the masala sticking to bottom).

Add water to pot and drain rice and also add. Turn heat full and put lid on pot leaving a small gap.

Turn oven on to pre-heat at gas mark 8. When water begins to oil in pot (it will be quite reduced), cover the pot completely and place in oven. Cook for a further 30 minutes approx. After this time check if the rice is done, if it’s not completely cooked through leave a further 10 minutes and check again.

If you don’t have a pot that is entirely metal, and therefore cannot use the oven, there is another away to cook this. When the water begins to boil, take an old tea-towel and soak it completely under the tap. Wrap this around the lid of your pot and tie the corners above the handle (make sure it is sopping wet or it will get roasted - I managed to turn one black in the past because I tied it on dry). Put the lid on the pot, and turn the heat down as low as it goes. Check after 15-20 minutes. If not cooked through replace lid and check after another 10 minutes. This is known as the “desi” way.

Picture courtesy of A Mad Teaparty.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Book Review: Lloyd Jones – The Book of Fame

I had a good visit to the library this week, the first four books I picked up were ones I liked. This blurb of this book indicated it was about the New Zealand Rugby Teams tour of Britain in 1905. Not being a mad sports fan, I usually avoid this type of book, but mention of the All-Blacks got me interested (I know, I know I should support the England rugby team, I guess I do, but they don’t have the haka or Jonah Lomu knocking men aside like matchsticks).

The story is written from the perspective of one of the players and charts their journey across the ocean and their tour of Britain. The players are portrayed as ordinary young men: farmers, boot-makers, bankers and blacksmiths. Their winning streak as they travel across Britain makes them famous and we see how although they bask in their fame at first, later it becomes a hindrance and a burden to the team.

The book is very readable, with clean clear prose, although very stylised at times. Occasionally you feel you are reading sports commentary, and now and again as Jones describes matches, you almost are. I didn’t find that this took away from the enjoyment of the story and the wonderful writing. The team’s first impressions of England for example put a big, smile on my face as did the author’s description of Glaswegian hospitality and there is a conversation with the Irish which is absolutely hilarious.

Due to the subject matter I think that this book might not be for everyone, but I would not rule it out either. It touches on themes of nationality, celebrity, home, roots (many of the players are the children of British Immigrants and look for themselves in the Irish or Scottish) homesickness and fidelity and even on the horror of the Russian pogroms against the Jews.

A satisfying mix of travelogue, sports biography and evocative prose, that reminds you almost of surreal writers like Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Party Henna

To me henna is celebration itself and Eid feels incomplete without it. Three of the guests at our Eid party could apply henna, so we asked them nicely and they found themselves spending most of the evening decorating the hands of the rest of our guests. I mentioned earlier that my sister had afound a henna paste that her friend tells her takes 10 minutes to turn deep red and lasts up to two weeks. Well the henna was called Al-Qamar (a picture is here and you can this online, htough it's about £1 in local Indian shops) and it deed indeed stain virtually immediately. I don't know if it will last more than a few days but it's brilliant if you don't have much time to leave your henna on (kind of an emergency henna I suppose). A word of warning though, if you have sensitive skin, I would suggest a patch test as a few people could feel tingling and this is not pure henna. In identally Umm Mustapha just had a post up about henna.

I love this design on my best freinds hand mash'Allah, it looks like she is wearing jewellery.

Little Lady got in on the act too and got both hands done on both sides. She want's to be a henna lady when she grows up (as well as a shop-lady, a make-up lady and a doctor - and a mummy)

Aside from the henna we kept ourselves and the children occupied with pass the parcel and musical chairs (using this nasheed which I like). We decide to keep childrens and adults games seperate as there was every chance that one of the kids would get squashed/stepped on/injured/sat on as the grown-ups games get silly and sometimes aggressive. (If you thought that hijabi's letting their hair down looks genteel, forget it).

One of the guests came up with an idea for a game and we agreed to award a prize to whoever could display the best talent. We had a cartwheel, a back-flip, a wandering eye (!) and belly-dancing from my bestest friend and her sister, of course the bellydancer won (no favouritism - honest).

Party Food

Samosa's, and potato croquettes from Umm Umar (my next door neighbour). Chicken and chips courtesy of Kooky Little Sister.

Delicious noodles kindly made by Umm Ahsan, I couldn't stop picking out the bits of spicy chicken (I will ask her for the recipe).

Sandwiches (sorry about the blurry picture) were from Fashionista Sister. They were delicious (chicken and cucumber filling) and everyone asked for the recipe (she has told me before,but I forgot so will ask her again). My neighbour remembered them from last year and asked me to remind Fashionista to make them.

I made pilau rice and chicken curry (seems to be a lot of that in my house recently). Long-suffering Sister fried samosa's and spring rolls and my aunty contributed Chana Chaat , I was too busy eating and running around to take any more pics by this point (and fighting with my sisters).

One of my sisters friends brought along fresh cream cakes from a shop in Whitechapel that really caught everyone's attention (they were seriously melt-in-the-mouth).

Our friend Stacey made the most beautiful Eid cake ever which I will be taking over to my mums today to show off and share, she also chopped up our Indian mithai from France into bitesizes and arranged it very nicely (I learnt this from afriend who used four of five peices of left over mithai and chopped it into small peices then arranged it with dates and almonds into a beautiful display).

All in all the spread was delicious and varied. Guests took some home and there was plenty left for today (I had noodles for brekkie and sandwishes for brunch). Alhamdulillah for good food, good friends and leftovers.

I didn't see any of the children eat anything but sweets and drink coke (despite my warnings not to touch) which turned them slightly manic.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Party Preparation

I hope I don't sound like a complete git trying to give anyone party tips, but I thought I would pass on some of the ideas I have used and some of the things that have helped me money.

The basket of bangles is basically full of bangles that I and my sisters don't use. I still had the cellophane left over from the gift baskets I made from my cousins wedding, so used it to package the bangles (I am beginning to find that cellophane is the answer to so many of life's little problems). The small sets are ones Little Lady has outgrown (she has her dad's ham-fisted hands) and as there are a few Very Little Ladies attending the party, I thought I would ask their mothers if they would like to take the bangles. I will also ask the guests if they would like to take a set for themselves.

This basket has some henna cones left over from Eid. I was given two boxes of cones by my Uncle when I was in Pakistan in the summer and shared them out between family and friends, I have the ones left over in the basket. The patterns in the basket I cut out from the bottom of the box of cones and the henna book I picked up from a boot sale for 50p along with tattoos and a henna cone (which I binned because it looked old) all in a gift box. The book under the basket is a slim file full of blank pages onto which I have been pasting designs. Some of these are from newspapers and magazines, others are temporary tattoos. You also get patterns in the box when you buy henna sometimes and I have saved patterns from jewellery or just pretty prints and borders. I have also stuck in photos of friend's hands from past Eids and weddings and even a few hand-drawn pictures. Kooky Little Sister says one of her friends can do bridal henna and another is very good at applying it too, so I may ask them to do mine. Fashionista says she has found a henna that takes 10 minutes to set the colour to deep burgundy and the colour lasts two weeks. She was sporting some yesterday and the colour was just perfect. I have asked her to bring some over and I will have a try and report back.

The gift boxes are the only thing that really costs much (about £10 for 40 on ebay, which was the cheapest I could find for that many). I used things that I have been saving through the year that I have picked up from bootsales and from store sale clearances. I picked up these buckets from a boot sale also (and used them for kids loot bags £1.80 for the lot) and cleared out the kids toy boxes to fill them. Other boot sale finds were candles, soaps, pens, make-up and mini toiletries for 5P to 20p each and four packets of party poppers for £1. I used the party poppers, sweets and balloons left over from Eid to bulk up the gift boxes and buckets. I made small stickers that thanked guests for visiting us (I included all four of us sisters and Little Lady) and stated that this was a box of treats to remember us by. I put a sticker on each gift box.

If you don't have a bootie near you but would like to try something like this, another option is the local £-shop or dollar-store where you can pick up multi-packs of pens, candles, hair accessories and soaps and split them. Samples packs and bottles are good to stick in too.

The other thing is preparation, mums with small children find it hardest to attend and to enjoy these affairs, so I have a baby mat, wipes and nappy bags set aside in my bedroom and if anyone needs to feed their baby in peace or baby has fallen in asleep again they can use the bedroom. I always have black bags, wipes and kitchen roll tucked away to one side.

The other thing that helped me was that the four of us sister's do this together to split the costs on food and drink, plates and cutlery and prizes for the party games. I also asked guests to bring a dish if they can to reduce costs and work for me. It also means we get to try a variety of different foods. I can't wait to see what people bring along insh'Allah.

Food for our French Guest.

I rushed home from work on Thursday grabbing shopping on the way and found myself straight in the kitchen. Usually I like to cook for guests on a weekend so I can take my time and enjoy watching things come together (also all the chopping, dicing and throwing things in the pot can be quite therapeutic if you have all the time in the world to do it) Being in a rush, I kept getting things wrong -I put the onions in the processor and half got chopped fine and the other half got cut into big slices, I dropped turmeric in the rice and turned it pale yellow by mistake and I poured too much yoghurt ino the chicken curry. Fortunately I got away with it because the food tasted okay.

I had planned to post the recipes for the pilau rice and the mint chutney but haven't any time now because of preparation for our Eid party, also my mum has threatened to beat me if I give away any more of her recipes, so I will have to wait a few days till she calms down.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Serendipity and Balance

It’s funny how things balance out sometimes. I tried to get hold of my husband yesterday to ask him to call a family friend and invite his wife to the Eid party. I couldn’t get hold of him and a little while later he called and said that the same friend had invited us to dinner that evening. I think that’s what you call serendipity. Anyway the prospect of not having to cook and eating food far tastier than what I manage to hash together was a no-brainer and I went over and also invited her in person. Thinking I have had a nice break midweek from cooking and also having got some rest, I was rather pleased until I got a call at 6.30am this morning from France. My dad-in-law’s best friend’s son (in Pakistani terms, that’s almost a close relation) is coming to stay – tonight. So I have my shopping list for the way home and will be in the kitchen tonight. The kids will be getting turfed out of their room so the guest can sleep there, but I think they will be very happy at the prospect of sleeping in our room.

Although hubby likes to remind me that guests are a blessing (because he gets to eat nice-ish food and is not the one in the kitchen), he wasn’t very impressed at the short notice. I reminded him that this gentleman had been calling for over a week and when I told him and brother-in-law neither paid any notice. Although thinking back now, I wonder if I took his call and planned to tell them, but never quite got round to telling anyone.

I will just have to remind the better half, his brother and our guest that they are not welcome in the house on Saturday as the hijabi’s will be letting their hair down so better find something to do and eat for the day.

Dealing with Tantrums

I watched the baby throw a tantrum not long ago and it made me smile. Tantrums don’t make most people smile, so let me explain. He drops onto the floor, starts pummelling the carpet with his hands and feet and cries loudly while I sit there and watch. He then stops and looks at me to gauge my reaction. When he sees me sitting there laughing my head off, he gets up gives me a dirty look and slopes off in a sulk with his bottom lip sticking out.

I have been through this self-same process with each of my kids, maybe I have been very lucky, but when they have realised that their tantrum is going to get them absolutely nowhere they haven’t tried again. Maybe I am a hard-hearted mother, maybe a lazy one, but a child that shouts and screams for something just does not elicit much sympathy in me and looking at how orchestrated their little attempt at getting their way is just makes me laugh (if you watch them carefully the first time they do this you will see they take a peek at you to see if its working).

Of course all kids are different, Little Lady whinges, guilt-trips me and tries to reason with me, Gorgeous is just like Little Lady and gets bored quickly so howls, stamps his foot, gets bored then wanders off. Little Man uses the harassment technique – keep asking in a whiny voice until you get it. Even if it takes hours. Even when the boss lady starts shouting. Even if you are threatened with a smack (which you know won’t get carried out). I love persistence in people, I love it when they are so determined that they just won’t give up. I love this trait in Little Man, but not when it is being used against me.

Saying that there are always the kids which seem impossible. One of my good friends has two very mild-mannered sons, her third son (the middle child who is supposed to be the peace-maker and arbitrator in most families) is impossible. When he is about to throw a tantrum, nothing will stop him except getting what he wants – no distractions, no mollifying, no cuddles, no promises, no scolding, not even a spanking will avert the screaming fit. The poor women gets so mortified in public that she just gives in to what he wants. I have a little cousin like this (age six now) who just doesn’t stow bawling until she gets her way despite threats of a walloping. I’m not sure what you do with such children – I would be tempted to let them cry, and cry and cry until they knacker themselves out and go to sleep.

I believe in not judging other mums if they are doing something different to you, because none of us is perfect, but I still can’t get my head round mum’s who chase their child around, pleading and begging (please eat, please behave, please don’t cry). My gran always said that it’s good to let a child have a good cry when they need to. That’s not to advocate ignoring a distressed child, but “I want chocolate/toy/to run around the restaurant even when you’ve said no” is not distress its rudeness. One of my mum’s best friends saw the way I deal with my children and commented that “It’s good that you are making your kids grow up rough”!!!, I was a bit offended, but she said that because she had a lone son who she mollycoddled so that he could do very little for himself (and then promptly forgot all about her as soon as he married).

I will always remember the words of the excellent midwife who visited me after Little Lady was born. I complained about how she wanted to feed for hours and I was exhausted, she was not sympathetic in the least and turned around and said: “Are you her mother or is she your mother?” I still haven’t come to a conclusion on that one seeing how Madam tries to boss me, but she had a point.

“When your child cries your heart hurts, when someone else’s child cries, your head hurts” ~ Maulana Tariq Jameel

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Craft Gift Boxes

As our (mine and my sisters) annual Eid party is coming up this weekend, we four have had a war-council to delegate work, costs and food shopping and preparation. We have all pooled our resources for gifts and prizes and I have pored over my loot-bag stash which I have collected over the year (long-live booties and the bargain bin) to create party bags our guests will remember.

I picked up these two lovely boxes for 50p each and cleared out my craft boxes to create two gift boxes.

As you can see one is more beading and sewing/knitting focussed and the other is more card-making or paper-crafts focussed.

I cobbled together the tags and Long-Suffering Sister tied the parcels up for me with some pretty green ribbon. I think these would make nice parcels for musical chairs - with nasheeds of course (although that doesn't stop the game from becoming rather rowdy).